Coronavirus (Extension and Expiry) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 2

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 23rd June 2021.

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Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

I will speak to amendments 20 and 21, in my name, and comment on the amendments in the name of Jackie Baillie. Unlike in the previous group, I am happy to support Jackie Baillie’s amendments in this group.

I start with Jackie Baillie’s amendments 2 and 3, which she just explained. They remove ministers’ power to extend provisions beyond the initial six months for a further six-month period. If that extension were to go ahead, it would mean that the powers contained in the coronavirus acts that we passed in spring last year will be in place for two and a half years from when they were originally introduced. To put that into context, yesterday the First Minister told Parliament that we were hoping to be in a situation where the great majority of restrictions affecting us would be lifted by the middle of August. I accept that that was a caveated statement, as it was dependent on a number of things, including the data continuing to improve. However, if it proves to be correct, it will mean that the various provisions of the bills that we passed 15 months ago will continue until the end of March next year—about eight months from now. If there were an extension of a further six months, the provisions would extend for a year and one month after the point at which the First Minister has told us that we should be getting back to a degree of normality. I find it really hard to understand why we should be in that situation.

Indeed, if we get to the new year and there is still an argument for the restrictions, the proper way to deal with that would be to bring forward new legislation, instead of just rolling over something that has been rushed through and passed in a desperate hurry. Therefore, I support Jackie Baillie’s amendments 2 and 3.

If they are not successful, I intend to move amendments 20 and 21, which are a further safeguard in relation to the additional extension of time. Those amendments require ministers, should they wish to extend for that further six-month period, to give at least 45 days’ notice of that intention. Why? That would give us the opportunity to have detailed consultation and debate on the impact of rolling those powers over for a further six-month period. That would be very welcome, in stark contrast to the situation that we have been in over the past few days, where we have had to deal with this bill in a dreadful rush, without having the opportunity for external input and consultation and without time for detailed parliamentary scrutiny.

I am grateful to the Covid-19 review observatory at the University of Birmingham law school, which has input ideas in relation to the bill; I read its submission with great interest.

That is why I have lodged amendments 20 and 21. I am happy to support the other amendments in the group.